S is for Snow Cotton. Winning Against Depression & Anxiety

We had family visiting a few week ago, and on Saturday we all worked outside together. The Midnight Gardener and myself, our four children and our parents who were visiting were cleaning up our yard and gardens. With everyone pitching in, I was thrilled to see the pace of progress as it happened all around me. What a great feeling for a mom to see all her kids working together without too much of a fuss (unusual–yes)! When we were finished the yard looked–well park-like, and the vegetable gardens were nearly ready to plant.

Now, fast forward to last week when a windstorm came and littered every bit of the property with tree branches, twigs, leaves, and seed pods. Grrr! There was no time to clean up because of a family trip over Memorial Day. While we were away, the half-dozen cottonwood trees in our yard exploded with fluffy white cotton. Thankfully this snow storm only lasts about two weeks each spring, during which everything outside is cotton-dusted like a Western Washington snow storm–dusted with just a skiff, but enough to make a mess. After the combination of the storm and the “snow,” my yard is covered in this.

After all that work we get to start over again, but this time without help from our parents. Yes, eventually the yard will be park-like again, but not until we use rakes, a leaf blower, pick-up lots of debris and mow the grass. Warning! We know we will have to repeat this process often!

This quote should be cherished by every gardener: “Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.” Is it not true of our own lives? Every day we wake-up, clean-up, eat, sleep and then repeat. Some days are clean and free of challenges (debris) other days we have so many challenges (debris) that we feel overwhelmed and are confronted with the thought, “Is this all life is?”

After I began to recover from lung cancer and all tests were showing that I was going to survive the year, I thought I should have felt elated, overjoyed or even just plain old happy. I didn’t. The cancer-affected tissues were removed, I’d been thoroughly radiated and chemo-ed, and in a sense I was all cleaned up, but my inner self was cluttered without hope, or joy. I just felt, “Is this all life is?” “I wake up, take care of my children, go to work, cook, take care of my children and go to sleep?” Repeat it all day, after day, after day. Yes, I used to be one of those uninformed people who believed that people experiencing depression should just buck up, put on a smile and do something different! Well, I learned my lesson! That expectation is just not a reality for those with depression. I am sorry to myself and to everyone else who suffers from depression. Conquering depression is an everyday battle.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but chemotherapy can cause chemical changes within the brain which in turn can result in depression or anxiety. Following those treatments, I have encountered both. Recently, I am feeling more like my normal self, but it has taken 2+ years to make that progress. May I share with you the incredible amount of work it has taken? Here is my big list of things that has worked for me:

  • Humbling myself enough to know I could not do this alone and asking others for help, then being willing to take the offered help
  • Prescription medication (Patience is needed to find the right fit, and it could be as much as a year or more, plus don’t talk yourself out of taking it–you chemically need the medicine. Yes, there are some side effects but you will find one medicine where the benefits far outweigh the side effects. Keep trying!)
  • Mental health therapy (again patience is needed to find the right person for you)
  • Turning to God and Christ through daily prayer and scripture study
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Handwritten journaling (I have experienced noticeable progress using this planner Inner Guide Planner 2017)
  • Writing for my website
  • The passage of time
  • Changing my sleep habits
  • Eating foods from my garden
  • Avoiding too much sugar and processed or fast foods
  • Aromatherapy with essential oils (peppermint really helps me, there are specific oils that were created with anxiety and depression in mind but they are not scents that were comforting to me).
  • Hot baths
  • Spending time with family and friends (You are going to feel like isolating yourself–but avoid doing it too often, I could often be seen in my bed, covers over my head with my CPAP mask on).
  • Avoiding over-using media and being careful not to compare myself to people who might appear perfect in the media.
  • Really shutting down the negative “it” inside my brain (For example: “Why did she say that to me?” “I think she must hate me!” or “I am a bad person.” I hate myself”)
  • Learning to love myself and seeing “me” as inherently awesome.  Being gentle with myself and others. Saying instead of “I hate myself for doing that.” “I love myself for doing that and I am going to learn this lesson and not do it again.”
  • Sunshine & Vitamin D
  • And of course lots and lots of garden time

I am finally feeling like the “dusting of snow” is being lifted and cleared away. I am able to see purpose in my life again and I am wanting to accomplish goals.

You know what I am going to say don’t you? These steps will need to be repeated over and over again for the rest of my life! Of course, I am not perfect (not even close) in following through. I sometimes forget my medicine, don’t want to talk to a counselor this week or cannot tell “it” to shut-up, but I am trying and I refuse to give up. Remember also that your list will likely be different than mine, that is normal and awesome. When, and if your life gets dusted with snow and littered with debris, remember that it is the process of good habits and repetition that we add years to our lives and life to our years.

Note of compassion: please if you or someone you know suffers from depression or anxiety please share this blog post. Depression and anxiety can be beat. Never give up hoping, praying and working.

Recipe: Radishes harvested a-plenty. Now how to use them?

During this past weekend Keepsake Collector harvested all of our radishes. Here is a small sample of the harvest. This variety is French Breakfast. Did you grow radishes? How was your harvest? IMG_6488

Now that we have so many, what to do with all these radishes? Radishes are enjoyed in salads of course but did you know that they can be made into their own side dish, used in any slaw or roasted in the oven with olive oil, kosher salt and a splash of lemon juice? For example, look at this surprising recipe for Roasted Radishes and tell me what you think.

If I could eat Latin American food every day, I would be very happy. I just love it! I haven’t always felt this way, but the Midnight Gardener and I have lived in Mexico, Costa Rica and South Florida, and I just fell in love with nearly all foods from these regions. The food served there is so fresh, robust and earthy.

The combination of lime, cilantro, and a little kosher salt is amazing, and surprisingly, when you add radish and a few other ingredients to these flavors, the result is an added kick of delight to the overall taste. Try sliced, raw radish as a garnish for the savory pork and hominy soup called Pozole, to homey Black Bean Soup, or the stew of beef, bacon and and beans known as Carne En Su Jugo. Even more simple, sliced or julienned radishes make a fantastic topping for any taco.

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The radish is a true Latin Food enhancer. Please give it a try! Take it a step further by making this great recipe for a Radish-Cilantro Taco topping:

Ingredients

½ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

6 radishes, trimmed, washed and diced

4 green onions, chopped

1 small avocado, diced

1 teaspoon fresh jalapeño, seeds removed, if desired, and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 half of a lime, juiced.

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparations

Combine all ingredients and mix. Add lime juice, kosher salt and pepper to taste. Increase the amount of jalapeño if you would like to turn up the spice. Allow the flavors to combine for 30 minutes. Serve with any Latin Foods. Delicious with tacos!

 

The photo “Fish Tacos with Radish Salad and Salsa Verde” by thebittenword.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0

L is for: The Love Apple

Memories of my early childhood include many scenes from my family’s garden. Close your eyes with me and visualize an 8-year-old girl with red hair and freckles at that playful but awkward stage, who’s newly banged-up shins and pink, sun-kissed nose are the rewards of a glorious Saturday spent playing outside in the heat of the summer. She is kneeling in the furrow of a garden row. In her hands she holds a treasure, discovered amid the dark green foliage beside her. It is shiny, and bright apple red, and she presses it with both hands to her face for an enormous bite. The delicate skin ruptures and a juicy torrent covers her cheeks and hands. Gulping and slurping with great satisfaction, she bends forward for a second bite and the tomato squirts onto her shirt and dribbles between her fingers, making dark, wet spots on the soil at her feet.

Only a homegrown tomato could make such a delicious mess. Tomatoes are simply my favorite food of all time. I eat them right off the vine all summer long. Most people agree that a store-bought tomato offers no comparison to one picked from the vine and devoured moments later. If there is one summer vegetable (actually a fruit) that most people will make any effort to grow themselves, it is the tomato.

I am hopeful that this is going to be our best year for tomatoes. Don’t you also hope for the same every year? Yesterday, I “potted up” some of our tomato seedlings. Tomato plants require a lot of sunlight and summer heat for the fruit to flourish and ripen—two things which are not abundant here in the Pacific Northwest. To grow well and reach its full potential, a tomato plant requires considerable effort from the gardener. Please keep this statement in mind as I tell you my love story.

I have deemed my husband, the Midnight Gardener, as a tomato whisperer. In January he combs the seed catalogs to select the best varieties to produce the best tasting tomatoes in our short growing season. The tiny seedlings are nurtured under lights with automatic timers and placed on heating mats. As they grow, they receive meticulous care: they are monitored daily, watered from the bottom at the root and are gently blown with a fan to simulate the outdoor weather. Generally, he plants 36 to 40 tomato plants each growing season. Last year I begged him to plant less. He agreed! I felt happy until I learned he had thirty-three seedlings. Wow! A lot less work.

My husband has tried IMG_4282[1]all kinds of tomato varieties: Pruden’s Purple, Green Zebra, Sun Gold Cherry, Brandywine and Legend to name a few. My personal favorite is the yellow-fruited Taxi. So…so…soooo good; sweet, but not too sweet, with a little tang and a delicate, thin skin. Try it! At the peak of each tomato season he creates a blind taste test of all the varieties he has grown that year and asks me to declare the winner. Taxi has so far always been the winner, although two years ago, Hillbilly very nearly edged out Taxi and took the crown.

Here is where the love story comes in…my husband does not eat freshly-grown tomatoes. He does not eat them at all. He finds them to be squishy and will slide them from his plate to mine if ever one arrives from a restaurant kitchen. My tomato whisperer grows tomatoes because he wants me to enjoy my favorite food! He will often remind me that the French called it “pomme d’amour” or the Love Apple. He loves me? He loves me not? Oh, he loves me–36 tomato plants tells me that yes, he loves me!

I am going to tell you a secret–I do not enjoy planting these dozens of tomato plants every year. The Midnight Gardener grows tomato seedlings like a champ, but as we approach summer I plant them in the garden. It is not fun! I have to think all the positive thoughts in the world to finish the task. Last year my father-in-law patiently worked with me until they were all planted–so nice.

My weekly message this Wednesday is in the form of a simple equation.

Love = Doing what you don’t like doing, or don’t want to do to give another person joy. 
True joy for me= the Midnight Gardener’s joy.
True joy for him=my joy.
And that’s my Love (apple) Story. 
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Laundry Room Seedling Nursery

I spent several hours this weekend moving tomato seedlings from seedling trays into large pots. I noticed that Jennifer has already told you that I grow too many plants. If you ask me, the problem, more specifically, is that I allow too many plants to live! Gardening books tell us to plant extra seeds in case something goes wrong. I start tomato seeds in small trays, for example, and I may plant two seeds in a cell. As the small seedlings emerge and begin to grow, I’m supposed to then choose the best and eliminate the other. Instead, I often tease the tiny seedlings apart and transplant both into pots. Volià–just like that we end up with dozens of extra plants.

1 (3)I’m worried that I didn’t get to the tomato seedling earlier. The plants look a bit stressed. I was just too busy when the time was right. I hope they will soon return to stretching out their roots in the luxurious space of  their new pots and that their leaves will again be vibrant and resume vigorous growth.

When I was  new to gardening we purchased a lot of seedings from nearby nurseries. As I gained experience, I wanted to grow specific varieties that could not be found as seedlings. I wanted to grow these varieties for a number of reasons–primarily because they were adapted to my region, but also because they were known to be superior in flavor or some other quality. While the varieties could not be found as seedlings, the seeds could be purchased.

And so I determined to grow the seedlings myself. I begged for some space in the laundry room and I purchased some equipment and supplies. Prior to planting, I fill seedling plug trays with moistened sterile seedling mix and I prepare small plant labels for each variety.  Once the seeds are planted, I place a clear plastic dome over the tray to ensure the conditions stay ideal. The trays go under lights on a top shelf in our laundry room. The shop light hanging there (this one from Home Depot) has six T8 fluorescent bulbs in the daylight color range (6500K), which makes the room seem as bright and cheery as a sunny morning. The lights are plugged into a simple timer, simplifying their operation. A heating mat controlled by a thermostat encourages germination and a small fan ensures healthy air movement and realistic conditions. I observe the plant trays carefully, and I water the seedlings as needed.

After a several weeks the now larger seedlings are transplanted into larger pots filled with a perlite-rich potting mix (I use this one as it ensures good drainage which is important here in the Pacific Northwest) and relocated to lighted shelves in our unheated garage in order begin the process of hardening off the seedlings as they adapt to the powerful sunshine and outside temperatures. On sunny days I relocate the seedlings out of doors, and I return them to the garage each evening. I watch the weather in order to be aware of cold snaps and rainy or winds days, and I keep the plants watered.

All this is a lot of work, but the result is that we can grow a garden of amazing varieties that succeed in this area and provide delicious results!

Grow well,

The Midnight Gardener

What’s in the Garden? Weeds? Oh my!

Weeds, weeds weeds. IMG_6039[1]
The last two weekends I have had no time to plant because all I can do is fight the weeds. It’s a problem we have because fall turned to winter before we had a chance to take our normal precautions to prevent weed growth. Now we have massive dandelions, bull thistle, stinging nettle and plenty of grasses. After many hours of work, I have one row in the big garden, two raised garden boxes and one flower bed that are weed free. It is a long process! I know for most folks, weeding is drudgery, but for “unusual me” it is generally soothing and something I don’t mind. Of course, when it takes up Saturday after Saturday it even wears me down!

Today I wanted to share the tools and techniques I use to banish weeds from our garden. We generally use five methods: the human power of a strong back and pair of hands, small hand tools, a propane weed torch, other organic weed killers and gas-powered mechanical tools.

Human Power

Hand weeding is essential–get the weeds out while small and young so that they can’t go to seed and produce thousands of additional weeds–but this work can be hard on your body! Be sure to stretch out! Take advantage of the winter months to strengthen yourself and prepare for the spring.

Maybe try my newly favorite approach. After cancer treatment I was a weakling. I had no strength and my motivation was low. A good friend of mine encouraged me to start doing yoga once or twice a week to regain my strength. Yoga? I had to think about it for a while, but I did start and the strength and calming mental health effects I gained from yoga classes have been so worth the effort. Yoga is great for women AND men, so guys, don’t you be afraid to try it. Yoga has also been beneficial for me, being a person who now has one less lobe to my lungs, because the breathing techniques that are a part of the sessions help me to feel well, instead of out of breath and wheezing by the time I finish my exercise. In preparation for gardening, yoga strengthens your back muscles! I found it is excellent for gardeners who are always bending over to plant or pull those weeds. Build your strength with yoga, my friends!

Did you know that gardening counts as exercising? Please read the following article from WebMD if you need the evidence Get Fit by Gardening. I was very happy with this information because I spend so much time in the garden.

Protect those hands! Here is my favorite pair of garden gloves linked from Amazon.com Nitrile Garden Gloves. These are in nice colors for the ladies, but they also come in black if that works for you. Be certain to pay attention to order your size, you want them to be like a second skin.

Favorite Hand Tools

Bypass pruning shears I’ve used a lot of different brands. This pair surprised me because they were still in great shape even after I left in the rain for too long. Oops. I often misplace hand tools in the garden. Luckily these are affordably priced on Amazon.com.

This is my favorite Weed Digger. I like the wooden handle. This one doesn’t come apart like so many plastic-handled tools I’ve owned. I am also not impressed with the thicker shaft models like the Fiskars brand, because they are hard to drive into the soil to get underneath the weeds well. We use these weed diggers often with the many dandelions in our gardens and lawn. Our kids also use these hand tools to earn money (and when they need time to think about their problem behavior.)

My husband, The Midnight Gardener, powers through weedy patches with a stirrup (also known as an action hoe). We’ve owned several over the years and all worked reasonable well. Our soil can be rocky, so a good quality steel blade is important so the hoe can be re-sharpened and will hold an edge. One winter he wanted the Swiss-made Stirrup Hoe from Johnny’s Selected Seeds so much that he bought it for himself as a gift one holiday season. I remember thinking, “That was expensive!” Now I love it and don’t use anything else.

Burn Those Weeds

Okay, we do occasionally use a propane garden torch. Correction–The Midnight Gardener uses a propane torch, a.k.a. Gardening Flamethrower. I am too afraid of burning something down. We have an agreed upon rule that he can only use it if I am home. There is some history there that (cough) we don’t need to go in to (let’s just say that we may have had a little fire incident that wouldn’t have turned out well if I hadn’t been there and quick with the garden hose). A quick pass of the torch kills many weeds. It is most useful for large scale weeding away from delicate plants, such as along borders, pavers, ditches and rocky, hard to weed areas. Amazon.com has well-priced and basic model Weed Burner to which you add your own propane tank, such as one from a BBQ grill.

Organic Weed Killers

We plant cover crops at the end of the gardening season. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we often use a mix of winter rye, crimson clover and vetch. The result is a dense canopy that covers and protects the soil from winter erosion. These lush, fast-growing plants block weed seed germination and out compete all else. As a bonus, these crops are cut down in the spring resulting in a large quantity of organic material that amends the soil with nutrients just in time for spring planting.

We’ve used rolls of plastic sheeting for effectively killing weeds in large areas. It isn’t a quick solution, but is very effective when left in place for months, such as when preparing new garden beds. The black plastic serves as an occultation cover, denying light to the turf or weedy soils. Clear plastic sheets can be used over soil to kill weeds, and pests through solarization, which concentrates the sun’s energy in the top 12-18 inches.

When we invest the time to do things right, landscape fabrics have been the answer for weed free walkways, borders, around trees and the like. For many years we’ve used the 4 ft. wide commercial quality products carried by discount clubs and big box stores. Recently we found a local source for Dewitt Sunbelt Woven Ground Cover and have begun to use it due to its durability.

A lot of gardeners have made use of vinegar for killing weeds. This is something I’m learning about. Understand that this isn’t common household vinegar, but is something much stronger. The potent stuff can contain 20-25% acetic acid, and may be called horticultural vinegar where you live. Where I live there are laws about its sale and use, and safety precautions to be considered, so please do your own research.

Gas-Powered Mechanical Tools

If you have a large garden or yard, the right tools are time savers. A rototiller can be useful for breaking up new garden beds or adding large quantities of organic matter, but for us it isn’t something we use frequently because of the impact the machine has in pulverizing the soil and destroying the soil food web. A year ago we invested in a high-impact set of garden tools that rule! The Stihl Kombi System in my opinion rocks! This system consists of an engine component and attachments that allow you to cut, trim, edge, prune, cultivate, blow, and sweep. You buy the separate attachments you need. We have found the time savings to be worth it. We bought our system at a local Stihl dealer and it has saved us so much time and effort!

And this my friends is all I can recommend to help you in your weed fighting efforts. All this work inspires me to do more for weed prevention–but that is another subject for another time.

Off I go to do what? Yes, of course it’s time to weed again.